“This last year was super boring; except for the month we made this record [Wonderful, Glorious]. It sounds like it probably took longer, but it was just a month. The rest of the time I was twiddling my thumbs, bored out of my skull.”
After two and a half years since the release of Tomorrow Morning, you can tell Mark ‘E.’ Everett is eager to get back into Eels mode again. Even though this is one of the most forced, artificial situations in which you could ever meet someone to talk about their art (a swanky but characterless hotel room in Kensington), he’s nothing but welcoming and forthcoming, as I assume he is to the ten or so other people lined up after me, armed with questions that are probably quite similar.
Wonderful, Glorious, Eels’ tenth album in a career that stretches back 20 years, is one of the most inventive and sonically adventurous in their canon. So comprehensively thought out does it seem that if he told me he’d started it the minute he finished Tomorrow Morning, I’d not have batted an eyelid, no matter how handsome his beard and beaming his smile. Why, then, did it all come together so quickly?
E.: “This was the one time we went to make a record without any preconceived concept of what I wanted the album to be. It could have been a disaster, but it turned out OK I think. We moved into a place where the whole house was a studio, and utilised every nook and cranny. We’d made all the previous records in the same tiny basement, which had gotten so piled up with instruments that we couldn’t function anymore. Seating was at a premium! There were altercations that were… couch based. There were a lot of ugly fights between my bass player, Kool G Murder, and my dog Bobby Jr. The other thing we can do now that we couldn’t before is set up as a five piece and all play live. Most of the time songs used to be built up piece by piece, now some of these new ones are actually us all playing, in one take.”
It’s an approach that provides the record a tangible energy and zeal. It’s also the first Eels album on which their front man sounds like just that, a front man, rather than the only guy whose name was worth remembering in a band who could pretty much be anybody. What brought about this more collaborative approach?
E.: “I’ve always been open to ideas, but would often go ‘that sounds terrible, let’s not try it’. This time, no matter how terrible it sounded, I’d say ‘OK, let’s try it!’ And it turns out I was wrong a lot of the time. There’s a song called ‘You’re My Friend’ with this clicking thing that comes in – that was Knuckles’ idea, the drummer. He wanted to try hitting his drumsticks on a stepladder. I said, ‘that sounds awful, but ok…’ Of course, it’s one of my favourite things about the song.”
Would it be right to call it one of your more optimistic records? And why do you think people often seem to think of Eels as a really downbeat thing?
E.: “Well, anyone’s who’s paying attention can see that [the downbeat stuff] is always there in the name of getting to a brighter place. There’s a reason the album starts with ‘Bombs Away’, which is coming from a darker place, and ends up with the title track at the end, which is getting to a very bright place. It’s all about how you’ve got to go through all the dark places to get to the brighter place.”
The album hits its stride at its centre, the sombre reflections of ‘The Turnaround’ contrasting expertly with the comparative buoyancy of ‘New Alphabet’. I wonder why juxtapositions like that interest him as a songwriter.
E.: “Both those songs are kind of about the same thing; they’re both in the middle of the record for a reason. Right before ‘The Turnaround’ is one called ‘On the Ropes’ which is about fighting your way out of a jam. Then ‘The Turnaround’ is about taking the first steps towards making your life better. ‘New Alphabet’ takes it a little further; it’s about how if shit isn’t working, you’ve got to figure out how to fix it.”